Tag Archives: grad student

Asking Questions to Manage Expectations

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Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.

 

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Revisiting Plan B

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It’s been a while since I thought about plan b at all. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the time.

A conversation with a graduate student last week caused me to hit my own pause button.

The student had come in to see me about working up a manuscript. We chatted about the work and then I asked him how his job search was going. He had been very transparent with everyone about his job hunt; seeking advice, getting feedback, and asking good questions.

Upon asking, he slumped down a bit and said, “it’s not going so well.”

Like any good advisor(y) type person, I said, “what’s your plan b?”

“There is no plan b.”

Uhhh…..

The student had assumed too much because we had given him too much hope. I hate to say it, but it’s true. We assume that our students will all finish and there will be mountains of opportunity for them. While there should be, there’s not. At all. The numbers on tenure track positions decline and continue to do so and the number of other types of positions rise to save universities money. It’s happening where I work too. I’m not in a TT line either so I’m having the same struggle.

I have thought about all of my options though. Many, many times….and I’ve tested the waters too. Applying, interviewing, etc…

But this student had not done anything outside of academic job applications.

And I hope he does now.

As many of you get to take a pause for a deserved break, I hope that if you’re thinking about finishing anytime in the next six months, you’ve got your “unicorn” but you’ve also thought a little bit about plan b. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but someone has to let you know or remind you that there has to be a backup. There would be nothing worse than wrapping up and not having anything to move toward. Sometimes plan b pops up when we lease expect it, so don’t be afraid to go towards opportunities that you may not have considered.

Plan b’s often turn into plan a’s and that’s how the job market works at times. Don’t count out your plan b. Keep working toward plan a, but in the meantime, don’t forget there’s other letters in the alphabet too.

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Manuscript Meltdown: Submission Season

Manuscript Meltdown: New Faculty

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The sound of the clattering keyboard is my favorite. Compared to the sound that I hear when my forehead hits the desk, it’s like music to my ears. Submission season is here! I love working up a manuscript, but only if I get enough time to do it.

Working with graduate students has rewards and challenges. Submission season has caused a small manuscript meltdown from one student this year due to time management. As someone who writes and submits regularly (like all of my colleagues), I cannot help but beg and plead with graduate students to manage their time in order to get timely feedback.

As a young faculty member who happens to love writing and research, I enjoy seeing my students make positive progress. No, you won’t get accepted 100% of the time, but if you’re improving, then you’re moving forward. As a faculty, I always remember to thank my students for their continual hard work. I know it’s a pain. I know it’s not always fun. AT ALL. But, I know why we’re all here. I’m here to help. I’m here to guide. I’m here to comment my face off in your word document in the spirit of improving. I often preface my first round of edits with, “I comment because I care” and I really do. Be worried if you don’t see any comments. Unless we’ve been working on this for a while, I’ve probably lost interest or didn’t give it the time it deserved.

  • Delegate your time in advance.
  • Send notes to your collaborators.
  • Know that it’s going to take much longer than you expected anyway.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help (in a timely fashion).
  • Follow the submission outline.
  • Find a submission to the same conference or journal that was accepted and model it.
  • Edit, edit, and edit it again.
  • Be explicit in your language in the body. There’s usually not space for flowery innuendo. Be literal. Say what you mean.
  • Don’t expect help. I hate to be negative nancy on the whole thing, but sometimes, people don’t follow through. Sometimes, people are on your author list but don’t do work. Sometimes, you’re going to have to man/lady up and rock it out.
  • Understand in advance you can use the writing for something else. If this is ongoing research, you will likely be able to use it for other submissions or articles. Most conferences are moving towards abstracts for acceptance, but there’s still some laggards who want 10+ pages for a 20 minute presentation. I call this a “valuable lesson in patience.”

Understand that growth is what’s most important. You may not get accepted but did you manuscript improve from the previous submission? Becoming a better researcher is a process, it’s something I remind myself of daily. There will be days of frustration and there will be days of sheer triumph. Celebrate whenever you can. It’s always worth a little dance party in your office.

 

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We Become Who We Surround Ourselves With

we become who we surround ourselves with | new faculty

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It’s strange and awesome all at the same time that our social and peer groups can contribute to what decisions you’ll make, how you’ll tackle each day, and what may or may not come out of your brain and mouth in actions.

I’m no stranger to the notion of who we surround ourselves with is who we become. I really struggled with this post grad school when I was still living with a grad student and trying to cross the bridge over to faculty mindset. It was a struggle. It’s still really fun to hang out with grad students, but man, those darn kids…. ūüėČ

I ran across a quick article on HBR and it reminded me of myself and some of my ‘younger’ faculty type friends (I put myself into this category). My friend went to a baby shower (cue Seinfeld, ‘you gotta see the babbbyyyy!!!’) and noted that she met some really cool women who were all mostly faculty and how great it was. It reminded me once again that it can be unbelievably difficult to find a good core group of people. Bad decisions are sometimes a collective bargaining unit that starts as a fun night out but can quickly turn into a ‘what happened?’ moment for everyone. The same can be said for professional decisions. We can all think of someone (like ourselves) who made a poor decision on the job that was influenced negatively by our peer group. The voice in the back of our head is sometimes that of the people we perceive as our equals. Too many of these poorly based decisions begin to add up over time and nothing good comes of it.

I know we’re all marred away into the semester already and so the mere thought of leaving the house for a social activity can be daunting (pants made largely of elastic really ARE a gift) but I encourage you to take a moment to evaluate who you’ve surrounded yourself with. It can be extremely easy to cast those people off as “people i have to work with” and “i don’t really have much of a choice” but I’ll tell you that since switching faculty appointments, my life has gotten so much more pleasant. My hair (which falls out under major stress) has all grown back in (TMI? it’s true and it’s my truth. if you want to gauge my stress level, just look at my head). I didn’t realize how stressed out and cloaked in negative energy I was until some time in August. Seriously, my hair looks really full in front right now, my acne is just about gone, my blood pressure is NORMAL, and I find myself craving sugar and other crap much less.

To play my own devil’s advocate, I know I couldn’t have left my old post without a new one to go to. I understand that we have to ‘stick it out’ sometimes and that our circumstances are all different. I stayed in that job because I LOVED so many things about it. I didn’t realize how bad it was for me and my health until my health improved. I also didn’t realize how stressed out about the people in that old position I was until one of them began emailing me a few weeks ago DEMANDING I do work for him. Thankfully, my academic lady balls were in full force and I had no trouble shutting that down with my velvet hammer. It worked. I was relieved.

As academics, we get stuck. In grad school we get stuck in our research, in thinking out dissertation is going to be this ‘perfect’ thing, in labs and projects with weirdo’s who suck the life out of us. As faculty we often get stuck doing some service that we’re not thrilled with, working with some grad school weirdo’s that have no idea that coming to work is actually a mandatory thing, and so on. I encourage you: faculty and student alike, to evaluate who you’re surrounding yourself with and what you’re becoming as a result. It’s hard to see the forest for the sleaze sometimes. Sometimes we talk ourselves into the whole “it won’t last forever” bit (kind of like grad school) but what can we do in the interim to make it a more bearable experience? It might take detaching (with love of course) from negative forces to start that process and keep the majority of our hair in our heads and our acne at bay.

I’m ever so thankful to have a good group of peers right now. Ones who won’t be afraid to help me “check myself before I wreck myself” but also cheer me on to my own version of success. I hope you have that too.

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Grad Students: √úber Confident Isn’t Winning

Grad Students: √úber Confident Isn't Winning | New Faculty

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I’m always intrigued when I talk to grad students in general. I always like to hear about how their experience with grad school is going, what they like to do when they’re not doing grad school things, and then I like to run into the major advisors at meetings, workshops, and conferences.

Students in grad school tend to go one way or the other: uber¬†confident to the point of arrogant OR the “zero” efficacy zone with so much humble pie, you would have thought they crawled out from one that very morning (also called bed).

I was out with a grad students who’s ABD and he gushed on and on about “how great things were going” and “i’m so far along” and “i’m killing it, i’m just killing it.”

Incidentally, I’d just seen his advisor about a week prior and they had something quite the opposite to say, “underproducer 100%, ¬†a year or more behind.”

OUCH.

Where does this happen? Why does this happen? The Professor is In discussed grad student grandiosity and how it spills over into packets for jobs and it got me thinking about grad students I work with and pointed inward to the kind of grad student I was. This behavior begins long before a student begins putting together packets and the illusion that they’re somehow “doing great and killing it” is something that has always made me curious. I believe it’s a pretty fine line between doing great and doing terrible. It’s no secret that grad school is the destroyer of self-esteem in general so it never hurts to have a healthy ego, but at what point does that ego get the best of us and put us in the “a year behind” category without us even realizing it.

While it can be hard, open communication among the student/advisor is 100% necessary. Each party can only do so much to meet the other half way. What’s important to remember is this: your advisor already has his/her phd and you don’t. You can say that the advisor is awful or that they’re not helping you all you want, but they don’t need another degree and you do. If you think your advisor only has you to worry about, reframe your thinking: your advisor has more work that he/she will ever know what to do with and you’re about 1/48 of his/her plate of work on any given day.

Being self motivated is the only way you’re going to finish. You can have the best support group, most outstanding advisor, and amazing research, but the only thing that will get you to completion is YOU. Compensating with ego will only get you so far, the jig won’t last long when no words come out on the paper. I watched this happen several times during grad school and several more on faculty. You can only go so long without doing the readings, you can only last so long by not buckling down.

As you begin a new academic year, I implore the faculty and the students to communicate. Managing expectations will help everyone and being clear on those in advance can only turn this into a positive outcome. I’m not going to pretend that grad school is full of magic and unicorns, but you can get out with some slice of dignity left by pacing yourself through the marathon, being humble, and working through the process.

I bid you a productive and steadfast academic year.

 

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Time Management 101 From Dr. Tough Love

Time Management in Grad School | New Faculty

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“I love the sound of a deadline, I love the sound it makes as it goes whooshing by….” Whoever said this and coined it should be shot.

A  student missed a deadline. And they knew it. An email arrived while I was sleeping informing me that they were going to miss it. Life is a moving target friend. You just got shot.

It’s not fatal, they extended it by a few days. Upon request to meet because they’d just been confused the last few weeks, I handed over some resources, we discussed a few things, and onward ho. Take a stab at it friend. It’s writing, not your last love note before you die. But again, they failed to produce. Time management friends. Time management.

I¬†forget that grad students (students in general) think we’re only working on ‘their thing’ & was reminded of that when a student said, “oh, is this for our stuff?” after telling him that it wasn’t he said, “oh, you have more work than this?” yes sir…..gads of other work besides your (now late) work…..

Is it ok to miss a deadline? Absolutely, but don’t do it because you’re confused and then wait until the last moment. That’s not cool, in fact, it’s really un-classy. And we’re going for super classy folks. In all seriousness, don’t be that guy. Ever. Or at least try not to be. It’s better to take a stab at the writing and get it all back with a million comments in Word or bleeding than to turn nothing in at all. That’s even worse. Slow productivity is at least still productivity. Shutting down the machine is just a pain in the neck for everyone involved.

The fatal error for this student: Time management or lack thereof. A second year grad student should have a better handle on this. I misjudged them. My mistake. Excuse after excuse flooded my inbox, came to see me in my office, and generally interrupted my workflow for days. In fact, I’m still waiting. Instead of reading their work, I have had 15 minutest to blog today-score! Or, in the spirit of the world cup- GOALLLLL!!!!!!

Summer is a great and wonderous (albeit short) time to create some good habits, set manageable expectations, and get your act together. I can only assume 50% of the responsibility for the student missing their deadline (yet again) and if I asked for $1 every time I got a crap ass excuse, I would be able to go out for dinner. I cannot do the writing for the student, they were hired specifically for this task, they’ve had weeks and I can no longer stand for the excuses. Welcome to grad school.

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We’re Only Human

Finishing Strong | New Faculty

It’s about that time in the semester. The feeling of being more frazzled than fresh. You feeling that way too?

As I sat in meetings setting deadlines for ‘the end of the month,’ I realized that that will mean the end of yet another academic year. Whether you’re a grad student, young faculty, or seasoned veteran, the odds that you’re running on empty or burning fumes are pretty high. And if you’re not, please email me your secret.

I’ve been running like the best of them lately, finishing 2.5 years worth of data collection, not having whole thoughts due to my brain racing, drinking too much coffee, and wishing that beyond anything, food didn’t contain calories at the moment.

I threw my back out/strained my lower back and it gently (ok, searing pain) reminded me that I’m only human. I cannot keep up this pace all of the time and spent the first day¬†laying on my back, laying on an ice pack, with my back brace sitting next to me so I could strap in upon finally managing to sit up. It was¬†the pits. I moved about rigidly and tried to take a flat land walk to keep things loose. I’ve got scoliosis and that doesn’t help. I also have some flexibility issues that flare up every few years and while bending over to grab milk that morning for my coffee, I felt the muscles spasm, tighten up, and proceeded to try and loosen things up w a walk about the house to no avail.

I took matters into my own hands and 24 hours after the initial strain and made an appointment with my massage therapist. As a regular there, it helped because I explained what happened and they fit me in that afternoon. I visit the chiropractor every two weeks and I wanted to promote my own healing. I’ve discussed self care before and a year ago, I would have let myself suffer. I consider it a win that I did invest in my own self care this time around.

As the end of the semester charges ahead, this has helped me reflect, forced me to relax, and helped me slow down and take time to smell the roses, even if I was hobbling at a snails pace while doing it. It has forced me to ask for more help for a few days and reminded me that I’m not alone in all of this and neither are you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Well, unless you’re bent over in a back brace trying to climb the stairs.

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Isolation in the Academy

Isolation in Academia | New Faculty

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As my colleagues and I surge to the end of another semester, the only thing I’ve been really good at lately is falling asleep on the couch. The days are full, the data is never ending (in a good way), but at several points over the last few weeks, I felt isolated in my own little corner of the campus. While there’s 20,000+ students milling around me, I consider academia to be an isolating and solitary job. While I usually don’t mind it, the introvert in me and all, every once in a while, I find myself a bit lonely. Eager for some conversation that swells beyond work and deadlines, I’ve made a point over the last few years to cultivate my network and cast a wide net to help my social life and my professional life.

My “friends” are both personal and professional, some are both, some are one or the other. I was having breakfast with a friend who falls into the “both” category and she was lamenting that she’d fallen off the face of the earth while writing her dissertation. She was starting as I was finishing and we got along very well. I respect the fact that she got busy with her own ‘life’ and we’d still see each other every couple months, write together, or have a meal. No big deal, no hard feelings. She has defended and resurfaced for air (as I like to put it) to rejoin society and sought out a breakfast date a few weeks ago.

It was really nice to see her again. Smiling, relaxed, a little less crazed looking. I’d been to her dissertation defense and was happy to support her through the process the best I could. She reminded me of how isolating academia can be. She even mentioned that she had disappeared without a trace for the last year and finally felt like she could do some things–reading books, back to working out, etc…and finding time to reconnect with friends who had gone to the wayside while she wrote.

As a young faculty and a reformed grad student, it can be very isolating. You sit with your research and your work day after day and while you’re often surrounded by colleagues, fellow grad students, or other researchers doing similar work, sometimes you need to head out of your usual peer group to find some interaction that DOESN’T relate to your work day. I’m proud to say I know very little of what my friend researches. I’m familiar with it in broad strokes, but it’s not anything I have interest in. I like my friend because she’s a cool lady, she’s intelligent, and very easy to chat with. While we share some similarities, we’re vastly different and that’s perfect for us.

It does take time and effort to have friends in academia because it is so isolating. Conferences are usually a few days long and cultivating professional relationships take a lot of time and usually a lot of technologically enhanced devices to foster the communication. I urge you as young faculty or grad students to:

go out and have some real interactions

Put the phone down. Turn off the device and leave the house or office for a few hours. I’ve found great people through my yoga studio, through face-to-face interactions with colleagues that have become friends, and through friends of friends who have all gotten together to form a super awesome ‘ladies group’ that gets together about once per month. We use GroupMe as our communication medium and coordinate real time, face to face, usually fun meet ups filled with good eats, good drinks, and lots of laughter. Rarely do we discuss work, research, or anything related as not all of us are on faculty, have phd’s, or work for the university.

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, it’s ok to let go of those people who just don’t jive with you. I have a colleague who was a good friend to me when I needed it but each time I’d suggest some ‘face time,’ there was always an excuse. I gave up. I wasn’t going to keep offering to foster a real friendship if nothing was being reciprocated. We cannot function on texting friendships all of the time.

Start small and within your means. Do it once a week. Even if it’s with people you work around, set the context by leaving work. Throw a potluck, hit a restaurant, open the invite at a coffee shop. By changing the environment, we often change our attitude and our mood, and it can lead to other conversations that don’t start and end with work.

Understand that this is not selfish. If you’re happy and fulfilled in one part of your life, you’re likely to feel the same with others. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. Being miserable is not the way your early faculty years have to be. Yes, it’s hard. I know, I’m in the middle of it, but it’s become more enjoyable by building a network and releasing myself from my own isolation.

 

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Just Beeeee Yourself

Beeee Yourself | New Faculty

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Some days I think I have this faculty thing down–work like a dog, survive on little sleep, slug coffee like a champ. Other days, I go…..derrrrrr……

My job is currently going great. It’s going so great that it’s ending–you know how it goes. Funding is finishing up and there’s going to be some major personnel changes in the near future, me being one of the personnel changes. While I cannot share much yet about my next steps, I have one learned one valuable lesson this spring on the job market:

Just be yourself.

Everyone is already taken. Being someone or something else to fit a standard or ideal is physically and mentally exhausting. Not to mention that in the world of getting hired, saying what you think people want to hear vs. what you actually believe is pretty transparent to most people.

I struggled with this out of grad school. I was full of theory and wisdom and methods and….crap! I had no clue what I wanted to research, where I wanted to go, or what I thought about ________. A recent slew of interviews taught me a few things though.

I can verbalize what I know vs. what I don’t know now.

I have some clear thoughts on research, evaluation, program management, and other fun things.

I know a whole lot more now that I did when I was bright eyed and bushy tailed grad student. Is there always ¬†more to learn–of course, but it’s taken me a couple years to wrap my head around it.

I’m not afraid. I don’t fear these interactions. I don’t get the nerves. I approach them differently than I did a few years ago.

I’m also finding myself more confident about negotiating what I would want in a position vs. what I actually need. Sure, I’d love 100 billion dollars for research, but how would I even manage that? What’s more realistic? What are my professional goals and how do they align with the positions that I’m interviewing for?

As a grad student or a young faculty who might not be in the exact place they want, it can be difficult to navigate ¬†the job market. Higher education isn’t going to stop changing and as long as you’ve got a horse in the race, the smartest thing you can do is just be yourself.

 

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Is There Such a Thing as Work Life Balance Anymore?

Call it quits, go home! | new faculty

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It’s tough going home. There’s the never ending ‘to-do’ list, the bings and beeps of whatever phone you have attached to you, and the continual demands we place on ourselves. The technology we love, we also loathe because it makes us always aware that there’s someone or something that is pulling our attention.

How do you compartmentalize when you come home?

For me (and likely many of you), easier said than done. I’ve talked to a lot of faculty and people in the human race, and I think it’s something we struggle with, no matter our profession. With or without kids, with or without a partner, with or without pets, and other responsibilities pull our time (in both negative and positive ways) when we walk out of the door in the evening (or whatever wonky work schedule you keep).

Turn off the sounds. Turn off ALL THE NOISES!!!! No more bings and beeps after a certain hour or altogether. I turn off my email notification and have it “push manually” because I know I can’t handle the noise.

No answering. Email, texts, whatever. If it’s not urgent and it’s work related–it can wait until morning. There’s also a growing body of research on not doing email related tasks constantly because it causes burn out. I’d get on board with that research. I quit answering email after about 7 p.m. and NEVER ON THE WEEKENDS….EVER!!!!!! Unless I need to do so for Monday morning, I quit answering email. It was difficult, but I made myself not answer. Sometimes, I fall off my own wagon, but generally, I keep a pretty busy life on the weekends. I read the emails, assess, and usually close them for Monday morning.

Set clear boundaries. With yourself. With your students. With your people. It’s ok to tell your people/students that you don’t answer anything after 9 p.m. It’s ok to tell students it will take you a full 24-36 hours to return emails. It’s ok to tell everyone you ignore them on the weekends.

IT’S OK NOT TO FEEL GUILTY. say it again….breathe….repeat it again….

If you need help, get an accountability buddy. I know it sounds totally ridiculous, but it might help. Someone to celebrate. Someone to remind you of your purpose, someone to take the challenge with you. We all know misery loves company ūüôā

Do something in the evenings that is more interesting than your work. Seriously. Many with kids will say that until bedtime, the most interesting thing is the kids (as it should be), while others join clubs, workout, have hobbies, etc… for a few hours a few nights a week. Giving the other half of your brain is also a nice reward for a hard days work.

I told myself that when I finished grad school, I was going to stop working on the weekends. I always felt as though work was looming in grad school and while it’s still there now, I don’t feel like I have to hunker down at ‘ye old mac’ every weekend. In fact, it’s one thing I have done successfully. I fall off the email wagon occasionally, particularly before an event or a deadline shows up but usually have no trouble getting back on. In my own experience, the less work I do on the weekends or evenings, the more productive and refreshed I feel come Monday or the next morning.

The decision to change and acknowledging that you’re in too deep is the first step. In grad school, I took one day per week and didn’t work. I called it “life stuff Sunday.” The day was reserved for life tasks: laundry, yoga (yes it’s a life task in my life), groceries, errands, etc… It didn’t always happen on Sunday’s but for the most part, one day a week was set aside to accomplish things that needed attention. After all, the Target call bot can only call 29847 times before the pharmacist actually calls and asks if you’re ever going to come and get that prescription.

Finally, there’s no change that happens over night (except the weather, those people are wrong 98% of the time). Start small. Say to yourself, I’m not going to answer emails for 24 hours and work up from there. Turn off the noises. You’ll find yourself so much happier. I turn off my ringer for better parts of a day, especially when I’m trying to write. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to begin to ignore things (and people).

Making yourself too available might make you miserable but it doesn’t have too.

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